Behind the scenes: Rebel Alpha

Usually, the first characters I create are the stars of the first book of each series. But in this case, I knew I had to save Cynthia’s story for last. It’s the longest in the making, and full of the most hope and sorrow. In a way, Cynthia did star alongside Connor and Jenna in Book 1 (Rebel Dragon). But a happy ending is that much sweeter when it’s a long time in the making, so I decided to save her love story for the very end. What better way to round out a great series than with a story of epic commitment that spans more than a decade?

The characters

I originally brought Cynthia into the series as a foil to the men of Koakea Plantation so we could have fun watching all those rough-around-the-edges guys deal with having a tough she-dragon boss. Cynthia can come across as aloof and bossy, which means it takes time to warm up to her. And I don’t just mean that for Connor, Timber, Dell, and Chase; I knew readers had to warm up to her, too. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that every successive book in the series reveals a little more of Cynthia’s backstory - and a little bit more of the true self she keeps hidden away.

In many ways, Cynthia is the poor little rich girl - a woman caged by responsibilities and traditions. But here’s a wild side to her, too - a side that aches to break free and be herself. That was true of her as a young woman, and it’s still true twelve years later when she establishes herself as co-alpha of the Koakea shifter pack. And now - finally! - she gets her second chance at romance.

I have to admit to there being a fair bit of me, Anna Lowe, in Cynthia. I was pretty much the good girl all along, and yes, part of me yearned to be wild and free, too. So Cynthia is for all the good girls out there - the hard workers, the playing-by-the-rules people, the mothers putting their kids first. That’s probably why her story resonates so strongly with many readers, I think - not just with me!

Just as Cynthia was designed as a foil to the men of Koakea, Cal is a foil to Cynthia. She’s the prim heiress from a fine family; he’s the freewheeling, unattached wolf shifter with no expectations or responsibilities. Just to make their relationship a little more scandalous, I made sure to make Cal the ultimate bad boy with a motorcycle! But even bad boys can be good at heart, and even they grow up over time. Cal more than most, because of the way he was denied true love. But he never gave up on Cynthia, and twelve years later… Well, hopefully you’ve read Rebel Alpha and know how that goes!

Of all Cal’s qualities, his unwavering dedication to the woman he loves is probably what readers love most. “Bad boy” characters often come across as swinging womanizers, but that’s not Cal at all. The day he meets Cynthia is a day that changed his life forever. It’s hard to imagine the hardships he suffered over the years, but that’s what makes his happy ending all the sweeter. Don’t you agree?

The story behind the story

The hardest part of plotting Rebel Alpha was figuring out how to make readers sympathize with Cynthia. After all, she had to marry a man she didn’t love, and I didn’t want readers to hate her for that. The father of her child isn’t her destined mate, and that’s tough for romance readers to swallow. I put the question to my amazing Plot Wizards group, and they helped me develop the details of Cynthia’s relationship with Barnaby. In the end, I think we nailed the perfect solution in which Barnaby’s quiet heroism comes through as strongly as Cynthia’s or Cal’s. So once again, thanks, Plot Wizards! You’re amazing! (They also helped me come up with some of the recipes and songs that feature in this story - all the little details that give it flavor. Excuse the pun!)

I knew from the start that there was no way to fit twelve years of burning backstory into one book, so I put most of that to the prequel, Rebel Heart. The rest of the plot was shaped through the arc of the series so far. The conflict with Moira has been escalating all along, and I knew Cynthia had to be the one to face her. I decided early on that their battle would take place on the Big Island. That’s really the perfect place to cover up a dragon fight, and as it happens, Mother Nature really has made the volcano particularly active right now. (Even as Cynthia flies to that final confrontation, she spares a thought for the island residents displaced by the eruptions, as I often do.)

Since Cynthia’s side of the story was pretty well established before I actually sat down to write this book, the main plot point for me to work out was Cal’s role in the final showdown - especially figuring out how a wolf shifter could face flying, fire-breathing dragons and survive. Luckily, my mind caught on one little detail of Barnaby - the extensive library that forms the backdrop to his meeting with Cal. Slowly, the idea of a ballista developed. (Here’s a video of a ballista in action if you’re interested. Sadly, there aren’t any dragons in the video. Too bad!)

Of course, every good plot throws a few wrenches into the hero’s plans, and that’s one reason Joey appears in the final battle, though I hesitated to do so at first. After all, he’s just a boy, and he’s already been through so much. But Joey comes through with flying colors, and the episode helps him bond with Cal. And who knows - someday grown-up Joey might star in his own book! I can imagine what a great young man he will become thanks to the love and guidance of his extended family at Koakea. Don’t you agree?

My favorite scene

While I love a lot of scenes in this book - Cal’s initial appearance, his dance with Cynthia in the Lucky Devil, and little Joey’s heroics - my absolute favorite scene is the one in which Cynthia opens up to Dell, of all people. I just love how their (platonic) relationship has evolved from the first book in the series to the last, and I love how much Dell has matured without giving up his fun-loving, boyish side. Early in the series, Cynthia and Dell rubbed each other the wrong way, but they’ve developed great respect and friendship since then, even if neither is quite ready to admit it. That’s one reason I love Dell’s pep talk. Many readers report sighed and sniffling at this scene. How about you? What’s your favorite scene?

Biggest change from early drafts to final edition

The biggest change from early draft to the final version of Rebel Alpha was the addition of Kravik. All along, I intended for Moira to conspire with a band of no-good European dragons looking to extend their sphere of influence. But it was only much later that I realized I needed to give those baddies a face and voice in the figure of Kravik. Kravik also makes Cal’s fight more poignant, because (a) they’ve tangled before and have some bad blood and (b) Kravik raises the stakes even higher with that he has planned for Cynthia - a fate worse than death, really. And only Cal can stop him. At the same time, Kravik helps Cal cement his relationship with Joey. Which just goes to show how one character - especially a villain - can push a story to a whole new level. For that, we have Kravik to thank, even though I’m glad we’re rid of him in the end!

Cross-links with other series

Aloha Shifters: Pearls of Desire series has its roots in my earlier series - not just Jewels of the Heart, but the Twin Moon and Blue Moon Saloon series too. At the same time, this series ties in to the next one - Fire Maidens: Billionaires & Bodyguards. Again, we have Kravik to thank for that! Did you catch the line near the end of Rebel Alpha that hints at that? The shifters of Koakea are wondering what will become of the rest of Kravik’s clan, which has beat a hasty retreat back to Europe…

“Good,” Connor grunted. “Let them stay there. I just hope there are enough reliable shifters over there to keep them under control.”

A secret smile played over Silas’s lips. “From what I hear…” He broke off, leaving that mystery for another time. “But we digress…”

I won’t reveal too much now, but suffice to say, a new generation of shifters will be facing the ultimate challenge in Europe grandest cities. I promise the Fire Maidens series has all the emotion, action, and passion of Aloha Shifters thanks to some amazing new heroes and heroines you’ll get to meet next. But don’t worry - I’ll be sure to check in with the shifters you’ve grown to love on Maui. That starts with Rebel’s Peace, a bonus epilogue to Rebel Alpha. Like all my bonus scenes (one for every book in the Aloha series), it’s available free to my newsletter subscribers, so make sure you’re registered to get that plus many other bonus scenes!